The towns, the cities and Trump

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Love this article in the latest New York magazine examining the growing political split between city and country. (Even Boise, Idaho, had some overwhelming Democratic strongholds.) It makes a point that hasn’t been talked about enough: That it wasn’t so long ago that cities, now considered overwhelmingly Democratic, once leaned Republican, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Columbus, Ohio.

What changed? Many things, author Justin Davidson writes. If white flight hollowed out cities in the ’70s — with suburbs becoming GOP bastions — revitalized downtowns have brought in new influxes of multicultural and youthful residents in recent years. That’s also made inner-ring suburbs more Democratic. (And, yes, many cities have also become more expensive and less affordable for the middle class — but gentrification is a topic for another day.)

But, for me, perhaps the most intriguing detail Davidson unearths is the importance of mass transit in forging liberal bonds:

Density makes towns more liberal. So does public transit. A band of dark, Clinton-heavy blue follows the Metra commuter rail line from downtown Chicago south to University Park, where it dead-ends in a field of red. Milwaukee’s bus system extends west to 124th Street and north to the county line, and those borders define political boundaries, too: Beyond the bus routes, the map turns from blue to red, literalizing Wisconsin’s dramatic divide. In the Bay Area, tendrils of blue radiate out along train tracks into the deep-red heartland of the San Joaquin Valley. Interstate 5 runs north-south without disturbing the political landscape, but 40 miles east, Amtrak links Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield — each one an isolated dab of blue.

It’s not clear what accounts for this political force field that weakens with every mile from City Hall but that’s carried from center to center along transit lines. Do people with strong political views choose to live in like-minded communities, or do the places people choose to live form their opinions about how society should work? Which comes first: real estate or ideology? Either way, the dynamic behaves like an ideological centrifuge, distributing liberals and conservatives in complex but not random patterns.

One of the overall questions of the article is how Donald Trump, born and raised in New York, became so appealing to — and, to some extent, part of — an anti-urban and generally Republican crowd. One of Davidson’s suggestions is that Trump has seldom has had to mix with the city in which he made his name — he’s spent his life in private cars, limos and helicopters. He also came up in 1970s New York, when the city was a poster child for decay. (I’ve seen it written elsewhere that he also grew up talking to the outer-borough hardhats employed by his father, real-life Archie Bunkers who watched New York’s ’60s and ’70s decline and disapproved of its increasingly polyglot politics.)

If only he’d ridden the E and F trains more often. Or maybe he did and they looked like the ones in “The Warriors.”

Atlanta has world-class traffic

Downtown Atlanta
Image from

News item:

To no Atlanta commuter’s surprise, the metro recently ranked among the top most congested cities in the world, according to a new report by transportation analytics firm INRIX.

According to INRIX’s 2016 Global Traffic Scorecard, Atlanta ranked eighth in the world for congestion with the average commuter spending 70.8 hours in traffic each year.

Good to see that, along with having the world’s busiest airport, the Region Too Busy To Invest In Mass Transit also has some of the world’s worst traffic. We are an international city after all!

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Sunday read: Ne’er the twain shall meet?

Image from Mapio.
I’m a city boy: Born in New York, raised in New Orleans, a resident of Atlanta for the last half of my life. The smallest place I ever lived for longer than a summer was Ann Arbor, Michigan, a sizable college town. I love cities: I love their vitality, their diversity, their amazing infrastructure. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a municipality smaller than 100,000 people. (I’m not counting suburbs; living in Mamaroneck, N.Y., is still very much living in New York City’s orbit.)

So I have almost no common ground with the residents of Connersville, Indiana.

Connersville is a town of about 13,500 in east-central Indiana. It’s perhaps 70 miles but a world away from Indianapolis, the state capital and center of a metro area of more than 1.7 million. Eight hundred fifty thousand live in the city itself. If I were living in Indiana, I’d definitely live in Indianapolis. (And I’d probably drive to Chicago regularly.)

I’m not alone. The United States has become very much an urban-rural country, with a chasm of an urban-rural divide. As noted in a recent Atlantic article, “America’s Great Divergence,” Hillary Clinton won 88 of the 100 most populous counties in the U.S.

That, of course, was not enough to win the presidency. Donald Trump overwhelmingly won rural America; 72 percent of Fayette County, where Connersville is the county seat, voted for him.

“America’s Great Divergence” is my Sunday read.

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Sunday read: What makes a hero?

Image of Tiananmen Square “Tank Man” from Jeff Widener/AP via

Years ago, around the time of the State of the Union address, I pitched a story about people who had committed heroic acts. I particularly wanted to interview Larry Skutnik, the man who dove into the Potomac’s frigid waters to save the life of a passenger after the crash of Air Florida Flight 90 in 1982. A few weeks later, he was in the audience at Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union.

I never got ahold of Skutnik, other things got in the way, and the story was never done.

(To its credit, Politico found him last year. He turned out to be rather crusty and quite prescient.)

Mr. Skutnik was one kind of hero — the kind who, on the spur of the moment, performs a selfless deed. But there are other types. Humane leaders who maintain and proclaim their ideals in the face of criticism and violence. Bold explorers who take off for places unknown. Scientists who toil in anonymity while coming up with a breakthrough.

In these parlous times, when the world is either retreating from itself or suffering from anger and distress, I can’t help but wonder: Will some new heroes emerge?

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Urgent: The sun rose today

Image from Getty Images via New York magazine.

Per the Constitution by way of the 20th Amendment, at noon today Donald J. Trump took the oath of office and became the 45th president of the United States of America.

The earth did not open up to reveal hellfire and sulfurous caverns, nor did the clouds part for heavenly trumpets.

The temperature in Washington was 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It was cloudy with a band of rain moving through town. A friend tells me it’s been raining on and off with gray skies. It was a winter’s day.

Anyone who’s read this blog (both of you) know that I’m not a fan of the new president. I worry about his unpredictability and impulsiveness. I cringe at his bullying need for dominance. I disagree with many of the positions he’s espoused and with the stands of many of his cabinet appointees.

I find myself seeking comfort in one of the watchwords of the Jewish people — not the Shema, but a song from the great bard Mel Brooks, “Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst.”

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Sunday read: The Ayn Rand society

Image from Barnes & Noble.

Many years ago, I was assigned to write an article based on questionnaires given to a few dozen prominent figures in Cobb County, just northwest of Atlanta. One of the questions asked what the respondents’ favorite books were.

Number One, far and away, was the Bible.

Number Two? “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand.

I always thought this was a juxtaposition for the ages. (Apparently, it wasn’t exceptional; the Book-of-the-Month Club and Library of Congress got the same results when they did a survey in 1991.) On the one hand, you had a book of stories that included perhaps the most selfless person ever, a man who spoke in parables and aphorisms. On the other was a book that extolled selfishness and culminated in an over-the-top 50-page speech that summarized Rand’s Objectivist philosophy.

How can you love both?

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Jon Stewart: ‘This is the fight that we wage against ourselves and each other’

Jon Stewart was on “CBS This Morning” with Charlie Rose Thursday, talking about the election and what it revealed.

As always, he proved himself to be as insightful as anybody on the scene — perhaps more so, because he’s nothing if not honest with himself and doesn’t talk in that stentorian, overly dramatic cable-news tone.

Somebody should give this guy a show.

‘There is no longer any pretense that the America social fabric is a single cloth’

A letter to The New York Times by Edward Warren, a former Air Force nuclear weapon launch officer:

To the Editor:

Too many people are looking at this election through the wrong lens. They believe that electing Donald Trump was a decision point. They are wrong. Electing Mr. Trump was the manifestation of a split that already existed in our country.

I have spent the last year building a cabin in northern New Hampshire and have gotten to know my neighbors. Talking to them has made one thing clear to me: The identity of being an American, the “social fabric,” has been slowly tearing for years, if not decades. What makes these friends feel American and what makes my liberal friends feel American are two completely different cloths.

While my Harvard Kennedy School classmates tend to talk about microaggressions and systemic bias, my rural neighbors deal with opioid addiction, unfulfilling jobs and PTSD from a war they fought for a country that seems to be moving on without them.

This country needed a world-class tailor to stitch these red and blue fabrics into a proud American flag, but that wasn’t a skill set that either of our candidates possessed. And without a tailor on the ballot, America chose a candidate who didn’t mind ripping the last threads apart.

There is no longer any pretense that the America social fabric is a single cloth. And while that is a painful discovery, it is the first critical step in the long process of patching together a new American identity. Let’s get started.

Revenge of the nihilists


I’ve seen a lot of talk about Joshua Green and Sasha Issenberg’s BloombergBusinessweek story, “Inside the Trump Bunker.” Much of the attention has been focused on the campaign’s plan to shrink the electorate, not expand it:

Instead of expanding the electorate, Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.

But I was more struck by the overall thrust of the piece — that the Trump campaign is simply a launching pad to bring the insular hard-right (or alt-right) message to an ever-greater group of people.

GOP consultant Steve Schmidt nails the numbers:

“Trump will get 40 percent of the vote, and half that number at least will buy into his claim that the election was rigged and stolen from him,” says Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign chief and an outspoken Trump critic. “That is more than enough people to support a multibillion-dollar media business and a powerful presence in American politics.”

Now, it’s not like the forces the Trump campaign unleashed were going to be stuffed back into the places from which they came. The anger and hatred is out there, and now as a country we must deal with it. But I still find it frightening that such anger will be cultivated and even celebrated. How do you fix your house when there’s a group dancing around it with gasoline and matches?

I don’t have the answers. I’m not sure anybody does.

Yelling and screaming on the news makes me want to holler (quietly)

Screen grab from CNN, via

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce on another knock-down drag-out, or as they call it on cable news, Tuesday:

Item: Don Lemon of CNN, whose fuse for nonsense can burn for days before he explodes, has quite clearly had enough of Scottie Nell Hughes, who probably can hear the clock tick-tick-ticking as she gets to about 14:39 on the Warholian countdown. On Tuesday night, he just about voted her off the nightly panel discussion on the topic of What Fresh Hell Is This? At the same time, Charles Blow of The New York Times nearly popped Corey Lewandowski’s cork. If they don’t change the name of this show to CNN Raw before the election, then Zucker’s really missing a golden marketing opportunity.

These kinds of arguments aren’t just on CNN. Newt Gingrich mixed it up with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, and I’m sure MSNBC has hosted a panel or two that quickly degenerated into something less than civil debate. At least Question Time comes with a dose of acidic wit.

And yet, I kind of admire these episodes.

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